TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2011 – THE “MAINSTREAM” EDITION

Tomorrow we will present our official Top 10 Weird Movies of the Year List.  This list covers all movies released in 2011, weird or not.

This year, for the first time, I will be voting for the Online Film Critics Society Awards.  Taking this commission seriously, I have watched perhaps a hundred of the most highly acclaimed 2011 movies, with a few nominees still left to see before my vote is due.  From the perspective of a weird movie specialist, this process has provided me two benefits.  First, it’s given me that baseline of movie normality that I need to be able to recognize the stuff that’s really out there to the average viewer.  Watching only the strangest of the strange week in and week out skews your perspectives.  Hopefully, I will never again fall into the trap of thinking The Tree of Life is too conventional, as I did in my initial review of the movie.

Secondly, gathering that “baseline of normality” has made me appreciate the weird all the more.  Conventional award-winning movies are all alike; but every weird movie is weird in its own way.  You can tick off the list of qualities that great movies should have: moving performances, arresting cinematography, sparkling dialogue.  A weird movie may have these qualities too, but it also has a spark of divine madness or folly that sets it apart from the herd.

You may notice that six of my top ten choices could be pigeonholed as children’s movies.  That’s not by design (last year my list would have contained only one, Toy Story 3).  But I did not feel the need to bump the children’s movies off the list to make room for more “adult” fare.  The truth is that children’s films are the most lucrative segment of the movie market right now, and studios are taking more time and care (not just more money) in making them.  They’re writing clever, multi-layered scripts to appeal to adults as well as kids; spending more time on storytelling basics and character development; and crafting more exciting and spectacular set-pieces.  If movies made for grown-ups are to increase their share of next year’s list, well, then, they’ll just have to make better movies.

We’ll start off this list with 10 Honorable Mentions.  I would have been comfortable including any of the films below on my year-end list, but by the narrowest of margins each came up a little short.

50/50; The Artist; Bridesmaids; Cave of Forgotten Dreams; Martha Marcy May Marlene; Melancholia; Tinker Tailor Solider Spy; Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives; Weekend; We Need to Talk About Kevin

And on to my Top 10 Movies of 2011:

10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2: I’ll be honest—although it’s a good film, Deathly Hallows 2 makes it on this list mainly as a lifetime achievement award for the series.  None of the Harry Potter movies were masterpieces, but they were all above average, and such sustained quality over eight movies and ten years deserves recognition.

9. Arthur Christmas:  This surprisingly dense and entertaining animated film (co-produced by the studio behind “Wallace and Gromit”) juggles lots of well-drawn characters and subplots together with an entirely new, technology-influenced mythology of Santa Claus.

8. Winnie the Pooh:  Refreshingly innocent; this feels more like golden age Disney than anything the studio has done in years.

7. HugoMartin Scorsese tries to bribe film critics into fawning over his movie by casually slipping film geek fantasies into the narrative—he remakes Georges Méliès shorts in color and 3-D, complete with extra “making of” footage.  It works.

6. Midnight in Paris: Maybe it’s a bit frou-frou, but it’s also like a pleasant conversation with a sharp-witted old friend.

5. Project Nim:  This documentary about a chimp who gets shuttled around to various labs, shelters and foster homes is, surprisingly, the most emotionally affecting and thought-provoking movie of the year.

4. Rango: The animation is excellent, the chase scenes thrilling, and the movie is damn funny; with its numerous citations to classic movies of the past and PG rating for mild language and violence, Nickolodeon Studios aims at a niche audience of older kids and adults.

3. The Muppets:  Simply the most fun you’ll have at the movies all year.

2. 13 AssassinsTakashi Miike proves he can play it (mostly) straight with this samurai film that’s beyond epic—it’s mythological.  Like the no-name cowboys in Sergio Leone’s Old West, these men are demigods, and the final battle is their Ragnarök.

1. The Tree of Life: Read the Certified Weird entry‘s moon-shot of a movie gives us the birth of the universe, graceful dinosaurs and Sean Penn confused on a Beach of Souls.  It’s not just the best weird movie of the year; it’s the best movie of the year (and, thankfully for us in our role as advocates of the supranormal, it just happens to be weird).

3 thoughts on “TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2011 – THE “MAINSTREAM” EDITION”

  1. Hell yes to ’13 Assassins’, that was a damn good movie & the most uh-…restrained(?) I’ve seen Takashi Miike. Stories abould old honor code societies like feudal Japan are reassuring, though i suppose thats reactionary- still, seeing chivalrous knights battling for square old fashioned, high minded ideals in a beautiful alien land….yeah

  2. The downside to posting a year-end list 4 days early is that it can still change before the New Year rolls around. I’ve actually seen two movies in the past 2 days that I would put on my top 10 list if I could. The first is Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In, a beautifully perverse mad scientist story. The other, which I liked even better, is another kid’s movie: The Adventures of Tintin. It’s like an animated mix of Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Maltese Falcon with a side of slapstick.

  3. To be fair, the movie nostalgia in Hugo was all present in the original children’s novel. I imagine it’s the reason Scorsese made a movie of it.

    I was very impressed with the Tintin movie. It’s actually pretty true to the source material. Shame that Tintin is popular everywhere else on the planet, but not so much in America.

    Lastly, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a fantastic movie, and one of the few films based on a book that is better than its source material. I’d say that’s due more to Alfonso Cuaron than anything intrinsic in the Harry Potter franchise.

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